Vegan is trendy in the auto industry, and not just for leather

BMW and its Mini subsidiary will offer near-vegan interiors on some vehicles for the 2023 model year.

It’s not just about animal welfare. The move is part of efforts to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. BMW BMW,
explains: “Leather-free surfaces reduce CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] emissions by 85%.”

The company’s announcement didn’t say whether all or just some 2023 Mini and BMW products will have optional vegan interiors. We asked for clarification.

An industry-wide trend

The German luxury carmaker is not alone. GM GM,
has promised to become carbon neutral by 2040. Porsche POAHY,
believes it can achieve carbon neutrality 10 years sooner.

BMW has set a number of targets to drastically reduce its carbon footprint, although we don’t have a date when it is expected to be carbon neutral.

More than just vegan leather

To achieve this, the company has worked to improve the sustainability of its operations and its cars.

The company recently launched a sustainability flagship, the all-electric iX SUV, which uses recycled aluminum and plastic in many parts and is designed to be easily recyclable at the end of its life. The Mini brand, the company says, will be all-electric by 2030.

See: The 2022 Nissan Leaf vs. 2022 Mini Electric – which is better?

BMW has also invested in sustainable lithium mining over the past year to make the switch to electric vehicles more ethical.

Read: The EV market faces a tougher battery cost spike than vital mineral shortages

But a lot of vegan leather

This latest step is thanks to improved leather substitutes. BMW has offered a plant-based leather replacement called Sensatec for seats, door panels, and dashboards for years. But those aren’t the parts of a car that get the most abuse.

Steering wheels and shifters are a more difficult problem. They constantly make skin contact. If they feel less luxurious than the original, drivers will notice. In addition, due to the constant contact with the skin, they wear out faster than the seat material.

So BMW has developed a new, improved vegan material that the company believes will envelop the touch points. “The new steering wheel surface material reduces CO2e emissions along the value chain by around 85% compared to leather,” says the company. “The only distinguishing feature of the new material will be a new grain on the steering wheel rim.”

Continue reading: Used EVs: How to navigate the tight market for used EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt

The electric mini


Not 100% vegan

BMW cars will still use some animal products in 2023. “These materials will only be found in areas that are not visible to the customer, for example in various waxy substances such as gelatin used in protective coatings, lanolin in paints, tallow as a tallow additive in elastomers and beeswax as a flux for colors,” says the company.

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